A Good Read About Retail Book Stores and Glenfield Paper Plus


I was pleasantly surprised with some great service from Paper Plus in Glenfield this week and want to share the experience with you. Many book retailers complain that they can’t compete with online stores. Some like Borders might even see the fatalities as a  fait accomplis. I don’t agree.

Inside the Medium

Inside the Medium

So here’s what happened. I got an email from my daughter saying that Kelvin Cruickshank, the psychic medium was going  to be doing a book signing on Tuesday evening at Paper Plus, Glenfield at 6PM. That was too early for us and given that my wife is a big fan and it was her birthday yesterday, I rang to see if I could buy a book and get it autographed without going to the signing.

As an aside, one of the things that I used to love about Borders in the USA was book signings and the ability to even briefly meet authors. It’s not something that Borders in New Zealand ever did much of, in fact sometimes it seemed like the only things Borders in New Zealand had in common with the American stores I loved was the layout, encouragement to grab a book and take it into the in-store cafe and huge width of stock. It’s a shame they didn’t step outside of their business and listen to some of my ideas, because I think they could still be here and profitable, but that’s another story.

So, when I rang the Glenfield store, the response was “I’m sure we can do that for you.” I told them what I would like Kelvin to write with his autograph, gave them my credit card details so they knew I was bona fide.

I arrived yesterday to pick up the book and the two women behind the counter told me that they made sure it was the first thing Kelvin did when he arrived at the store to make sure it happened, because the line of people waiting to meet him and get a book signed was very long. We had a brief discussion and I was able t take away a gift that my wife was thrilled to receive. Having it signed to her, with her name spelled correctly elicited a smile that was priceless.

People are always quick to complain when they are not happy with retail service, but don’t often make an effort to recognise good service, so my Award for Great Service for the Week goes to the ladies at Paper Plus, Glenfield. I don’t live in the area, but I’ll go back in the future because these people care about their customers. They show a genuine interest, I don’t know if they are staff or have equity in the business (which is a franchise). If they are staff, my recommendation to the owners is to recognise them and hang on to them because it is people like that, who can make the difference between buying something online or going into the store. It is of course just one aspect of good retailing, but such a critical one. A great looking well stocked store with staff that don’t like their industry, their managers, or think of it as a just a job, is on a slippery slope.

Blame the Technology and Australia


Continuing my search into what happened at Whitcoulls and Borders and  generally what’s going on with New Zealand retailers I am finding no surprises, which is a real worry. Two words come up a lot. Technology and Australia. I know a little of both. I live for technology and have trained many retailers over the years (including some who were already millionaires) and while the technology has changed, the principles haven’t. More on this to come.

Australia and New Zealand

As to Australia. In the 90’s many Australasian retailers who had New Zealand operated subsidiary chains based in New Zealand, decided to do away with local country management, local buyers etc.  and to save lots of money by treating their NZ shops as Australian branches. I guess they considered New Zealand as a slightly bigger Tasmania. Not huge, but worth having, especially if they didn’t put much effort into senior staffing  resources.

When performance decreased they blamed the economy, they said that NZ was just an over inflated state and it was always going to be that way, which was how they justified reducing local resources in the first place. The fact is while we may have a lot in common, we are not the same. We are made up of different cultures and history and have subtle differences in our lifestyles. Subtle enough that you can’t treat NZ stores the same as Australian stores and expect the same result.

Similar scenarios happened in many cases with the decades of American Globalisation. It’s funny really that America wanted to change Japan and the rest of Asia Pacific while Japan wanted to change the west. I well remember having discussions with senior management of Casio in Tokyo and Hamura about improving the software on their cash registers. One of the issues was that they hadn’t allowed for people pressing buttons in the wrong sequence. Have you ever been in a retail store when the ECR (Cash Register) is bleeping loud noises no matter what buttons are pushed and the stress it caused the cashier? Their initial response was “They must use the ECR in the right way or you should find better customers”. We ended up beta testing their software in NZ and Australia first and then getting Japan to tweak their software. That was one of the initiatives that helped us get 70% market share in the ECR market in NZ and helped Casio increase theirs around the world. But then of course the company I worked for was sold and I along with my boss and several other great people were made redundant despite the fact that we were doing really well, but because they thought we were earning too much. I’d love to know what their market share is in NZ now. I know it isn’t 70%. Anyway I’m going off on a tangent.

The big thing I noticed in the NZ stores was inventory management. They were carrying a lot of books that I wouldn’t think anyone would buy other than as a joke. I went back to Borders a week ago to jot some of the names down, but it looks like they went in the $1, $2, $5 sale and were gone. They had many dated books especially computing which must have been in store for several years, technical books on how to use software that almost no one has used in the last 5 years.

From what I’ve been told, someone automated the purchasing software to replace books that had sold, so for example if a particular book sold really well, say 5,000 copies, the system would replace with another 5,000 copies. Well there goes the profit from the first lot.

One of the things that makes New Zealand different is our ethnic communities. All over New Zealand, but particularly in Auckland we have clusters of ethnic communities; Chinese, Korean, South African, Indian, Pacific Islanders and more. Brands who fail to take that into consideration waste massive levels of stock by having the wrong product in the wrong locations, which then becomes shop soiled and potentially unsaleable.

Inventory needs to be managed locally by category managers who understand and are at the leading edge of their category and who understand their local market. They need to know weekly what is going on and understand who their customers are and what they are buying. Some books date more quickly than others and need to be moved on quickly, others will hold their value longer, but will still have a rapid half life.

In my previous blog about Whitcoulls and Borders I wrote about how they could follow the example of Amazon and know what their individual repeat customers were buying and therefore their interests and could recommend books to them. Amazon continue to prove that people in NZ will buy based on recommendations along the lines of “You bought these 3 books, other people who bought the same books also enjoyed the following titles”. Not only do we often buy them, but we also pay massive freight costs to get them here, at the same time as local book retailers are discounting stock that people aren’t buying. How smart is that?

One good way of dealing with this is using Business Analytics or Business Intelligence tools such as BIonaMAP, soon to be launched by New Zealand geospatial solution provider, GeoSmart. Fortunately for retail chains, this product will support both Australia and New Zealand, so users can have visibility over both countries.

BIonaMAP